Posted by: signalhillarchaeology | July 14, 2009

A View from the Lab

My name is Danielle Rundquist and I’m the Lab Coordinator for the Signal Hill excavation.  I completed my undergrad at Memorial before travelling to Ontario to continue my education in conservation and collection management.  I am excited to be working in my home province on such a significant archaeological site.

My job as Lab Coordinator is to guide these up-and-coming archaeologists in the conservation of the objects that they uncover at the site.  Conservation is a profession where the main concern is the preservation of cultural heritage for future generations.  This goal is achieved through such activities as examination, documentation, treatment, and preventative care.

Much of our time in the lab currently consists of cleaning/treating artifacts removed from the field.  Cleaning an object is similar to unwrapping a present covered in multiple layers of gift wrap.  (Though in this case, the layers of paper are replaced with layers of dirt and debris.)  When an object reaches the lab we usually have a general idea of its identity.  But as we clean each layer of dirt off of an object, exciting and often unknown features can be revealed.  It can be very gratifying to uncover a maker’s mark on a pipe or a decorative element on an artifact that was not visible when initially unearthed.

Cleaned artifacts laid out to dry in our field lab.  We're really fortunate to have a field lab on Signal Hill this year; the maintenance staff at Signal Hill have kindly made space available to us (thanks guys!!)

Cleaned artifacts laid out to dry in our field lab. We're really fortunate to have a field lab on Signal Hill this year; the maintenance staff at Signal Hill have kindly made space available to us (thanks guys!!)

Though we are relatively early in the course of the excavations, both sites have been producing artifacts requiring our attention in the lab.  The Emberley site has provided the lab crew with a high volume of iron objects, such as nails.  Brick, roofing tile, and some electrical supplies, such as insulators, have also been recovered.

Just a sample of the many (many!) wire nails from the Emberley site.

Just a sample of the many (many!) wire nails from the Emberley site.

The North Range Barracks site has kept the lab busy with a wide variety of objects.  We have dealt with a large number of ceramic shards, glass fragments, mammal bone, brick, copper, and iron objects.  A particularly striking artifact is a fragment of a copper lion’s head. This piece is relatively stable and only required mechanical cleaning to reveal its features.  (A more involved treatment using chemicals such as BTA and Ethanol may be performed at a later date.)

The copper lion's head fragment from the North Range Barracks site. It may have decorated the hat of one of the soldiers who lived there.

The copper lion's head fragment from the North Range Barracks site. It may have decorated the hat of one of the soldiers who lived there.

Time spent in the lab is an important aspect of a new archaeologist’s training.  Their work with an object doesn’t end with its removal from the ground.  They should know the process for cleaning, treating, stabilizing, and cataloguing their finds in order to maintain a stable and useful artifact for future research.  Another benefit is that without the work of the lab crew, it would be costly and time consuming for one person to clean, catalogue and conserve the large volume of objects excavated from the sites.  I am looking forward to continuing to work with such a talented field crew on the interesting artifacts excavated from the Signal Hill area.

–Danielle Rundquist (Staff)

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